On the Road – Distance: 118km I 75miles I Elevation: 2670m I 8759ft
Heading due north we climbed the Col de Pourtalet which peaks at 1797m on the border between Spain and France. We then descended with spectacular mountains all around to the neoclassical spa town of Eaux-Bonnes where we lunched in preparation for the two challenging climbs ahead. In the afternoon, we tackled the ‘Two in One Climb’, the Col d’Aubisque and Col du Soulor – two legendary ascents. These two climbs were my first taste of Tour de France level cols since back in 2013. Two phrases came to mind; ‘that’s great but what have you done for me lately?’ and ‘I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now’. Deep breath, here we go!!
We climbed Aubisque from the tougher side but Col du Soulor from the easier and shorter side. We headed up past the Cascade de Valentin where the riding was testing and steep but the scenery amazing! We pondered making the turn for the Hautacam but instead just waved at the mountain!
We finished the day with a long descent to a well earned French feast!
The Col d’Aubisque first appeared in the Tour de France in 1910. Since then, there have been 45 passages over the summit making it the second most (to tomorrow’s Tourmalet) visited mountain in the race’s history.
In 1951, Wim van Est was in the yellow jersey – the first Dutchman to wear it – and was chasing the leaders towards the Soulor when he slipped on gravel (note to Paul and Jen!) and fell into a ravine. The team’s manager, Kees Pellenaars, took a tow rope from the Dutch team’s car. It was too short to reach van Est and so to it he tied 40 racing tyres. Van Est said: “It was all the tyres that Pellenaars had for the team. By the time they’d tugged me up, they were all stretched and they wouldn’t stay on the wheels any more!” A monument states: “Here on 17 July 1951 the cyclist Wim van Est fell 70 metres. He survived but lost the yellow jersey!”
Tomorrow is another huge day with 3-4 more Tour de France Climbs. Time for bed…